Student protesters smash way into British PM's party HQ
University students forced their way into the headquarters of British Prime Minister David Cameron's party on Wednesday during a chaotic protest against the government's plans to triple tuition fees.
Dozens of demonstrators smashed ground-floor windows and charged into the lobby of 30 Millbank, a 1960s office building near the Houses of Parliament that houses the Conservative Party, an AFP reporter witnessed.
Police appeared to be overwhelmed by the numbers of students inside the building and were powerless to stop the protesters from tearing down the ceiling and wrecking the reception desks in the lobby.
A group of students managed to reach the roof of the six-storey building and hurled objects at police below. Outside, police tried unsuccessfully to barricade the entrance to the building on the banks of the River Thames.
One woman police officer was seen being led away from the scene with blood on her face. Five people were injured, a spokeswoman for the London Ambulance Service told AFP.
Thousands of demonstrators swarmed outside the building and at one point made a bonfire of a pile of protest placards, while hundreds of workers in the building were evacuated.
Tens of thousands of students were taking part in a march through London in protest at the proposals of the coalition government of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats which came to power in May.
Police put the number of demonstrators at 20,000, while organisers said it was nearer to 50,000.
Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), condemned the violence, saying it was "despicable".
"I absolutely condemn the actions of violence," he told BBC TV. Earlier, he said in a Twitter message: "Proud of the 50,000 students who have come to protest peacefully. Shame on those who are here to cause trouble."
A student from Bucks New University, who refused to be named, told AFP as he ran from the building: "It's like a raid in there.
"The Conservatives are asking for it. Both parties deserve it."
He said that at the start of the protest, the police "marched us past here and expected nothing to happen."
Observing the wreckage of the building's lobby, he added: "Now there's nothing they can do -- there's too many of us."
The move to increase tuition fees directly contradicts a pre-election promise made by the Liberal Democrats of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the junior coalition partners.
Students from towns and cities across Britain had travelled to London, with big university cities including Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham well represented.
Protesters waved placards saying: "Stop education cuts" and "9K? No way", referring to the 9,000-pound (14,500-dollar, 10,500-euro) maximum level of the annual fees.
One demonstrator, Bernard Goyber, a 19-year-old reading history at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said: "I wanted a peaceful demonstration. We wanted to take our voices through the streets.
"Students haven't been consulted about the rise in fees at all and universities are being savaged by the cuts.
"Fifty percent of students can't get jobs, most students won't be able to pay this anyway."
The issue of tuition fees had earlier dominated the weekly session of question and answers in parliament hosted by Clegg in the absence of Cameron, who is on a visit to China and the G20 summit in South Korea.
© 2010 AFP